I adore my aunt. She is also the one that introduced me to the term “polio pot” after my first edition of “A Parent's Guide to Substance Abuse and Addiction” came out. Apparently it's a term that has been around for decades that refers to pot that is so potent, it renders you immobile and unable to function.
“It's what they sell now in Colorado,” she informed me knowingly. “It makes you completely stupid and even if you're an 'old pro', it still makes you paranoid as hell. It's not your grandpa's pot. I'd tell your readers to stay away from it.”
Ok, that's new. I've never heard my aunt utter words of caution toward marijuana before. I was intrigued.
This summer I was vacationing in Amsterdam with my kids. After standing for an hour and a half in an excruciatingly long line to get into the Anne Frank House and then wandering through it and processing the emotional impact of what she and her family had endured, we were pooped. I decided that a good cup of coffee and a snack was in order so I marched us all into a local coffee shop, only to be promptly marched right back out.
“But we really are looking for coffee and a snack,” I told the annoyed owner who didn't look relaxed or stoned at all. “Well you can't get that HERE,” she huffed.
In my brief 15 second experience inside the Amsterdam coffee shop I had a chance to look around. It looked like a Starbucks for pot smokers. Everyone was toking it up and drinking coffee while either reading or conversing quietly. It wasn't exactly a party and they certainly didn't look immobile or paranoid.
My kids and I biked around the Amsterdam streets for a while and found a “Coffee to Go” cafe in a cute little street that I figured out later was part of the Red Light District. The scantily clad woman perched on a stool in the window next door must have been on her own coffee break when my kids and I walked by her post. She waved at us when we came back out of the cafe 30 minutes later. She seemed like a nice lady and I wanted to ask her where she bought her lingerie.
When we had first entered the “Coffee To Go” cafe, I was tentative. I hadn't been kicked out of any establishment since my college years so I was on high alert. I was ready to quickly get my coffee and go. The bar tender saw me poking my head inside, smiled, beckoned us all to come in, and motioned for us to sit at a table. We obeyed, clearly confused by the coffee lingo in Amsterdam.
After receiving my coffee, I noted that it was in a regular mug and not in a “To go” cup. I asked the bar tender if we had to leave. “No,” he answered, clearly confused by this question, posed by the naive middle aged American woman with her kids sitting in his cafe in the middle of the Red Light District. It turns out that you don't have to leave after ordering “To Go” coffee. You can just sit there like you would at Starbucks. Unlike Starbucks, however, you can spike your coffee or hot chocolate with some spirits if you desire.
After I returned to the states a couple of weeks later, I decided to do some research. Was Colorado and eventually, the entire USA headed toward the very tame Amsterdam that I had just left? If so, well heck, maybe the legalization battle that Colorado and Washington had pioneered was actually much ado about nothing.
It turns out, however, that there are some key differences between The Netherlands and Colorado. The first is, the pot industry in The Netherlands isn't being run by corporations. Their weed is still expensive and mostly home grown. In fact, most coffee shops don't even know where they get their pot. Since technically it's still illegal there to grow large amounts of marijuana, there is a “Don't ask, don't tell” policy when it comes to coffee shops knowing where their pot actually comes from:
Colorado, however, is a different story. Over in the US, marijuana is becoming big business and there's a race to make the best, most desired pot ever. “Best” often translates to “Most Potent” which brings me to a second key difference. In Amsterdam, the potency of pot sold in coffee shops is regulated. Anything over a certain THC level is considered a hard drug and can't be sold legally. Also, no advertising is allowed and the amount that can be purchased is strictly limited as is the number of coffee shops that are allowed to sell it. While there are some parts of the marijuana laws that are currently being debated, these particular restrictions are not.
Here's another key difference. Pot has been legal in The Netherlands since the '70s. It's old news and the residents don't have a huge, collective desire to get stoned out of their minds. In fact, according to a recent study done by the UN, only 6% of residents in The Netherlands report that they smoke pot at all vs. 15% in the US.
In the US, marijuana potency is unregulated and proponents of polio pot want it to stay that way. Their argument is that hard alcohol is sold along side wine and beer and people have learned how to tell the difference and regulate themselves. Therefore, they can do the same with weed.
I don't know... Granted, I'm not an expert in the wide world of weed efficacy but I doubt that the difference between smoking weak weed vs. polio pot is as stark as chugging beer vs. whiskey. It's not often that dads come inside, hot and sweaty from mowing the lawn, and reward themselves by chugging a nice cold bottle of straight Jack. Plus, alcohol content is clearly marked on each bottle so people know what they're buying. I'm betting that it's mainly the 'old pros' who are able to quickly ascertain the nuances of pot potency. While smoking stronger pot may get you high quicker which may result in users smoking less, the tokes between the different potency levels, for the most part, may have varying degrees of coughing but feel physically similar. Plus, pot can be eaten and it's awfully difficult to regulate how much THC is being consumed when you're munching on a cookie and the effects are significantly delayed by having to go through the digestive system.
Louis C.K. agrees:
I suspect that potency regulations will be put into place in the US at some point although they may differ from state to state. In the meantime, it is necessary for users to realize that the pot that they get a hold of these days, especially if it comes from a state where it has been legalized, is way more potent than ever before. In fact, much of it would be considered too hard of a drug for sale in The Netherlands. And since the potency levels have climbed so sharply in such a short period of time, the long term effects are not yet known. Especially for teens, the effects on brain development and overall health could be quite damaging.
“The average potency of pot has more than tripled in the past two decades, according to testing done for the federal government. This comes just over a year after Colorado and Washington legalized the drug and as many other states consider making it legal for medical or recreational use.
Scientists determine potency by measuring levels of THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient that gives marijuana its “high.” And data from the University of Mississippi’s Potency Monitoring program found that the average potency of marijuana has jumped from 3.4 percent THC in 1993 to 12.3 percent THC in 2012. Scientists at the lab say they’ve seen samples as high as 36 percent.
“High Times” magazine recently had an issue with a cover promoting “The Strongest Strains on Earth,” which claimed to have analyzed 15 strains of pot with potencies ranging between 25 to 28 percent THC. Marijuana near that strength can be bought at many legal retail shops and medical dispensaries across the U.S.”
And from http://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/voices-of-experience/this-is-your-teens-brain-on-marijuana/?pos=1&xid=nl_EverydayHealthChildrensHealth_20140613
“With so many adults having legal access, it is likely more teens will be finding it easier to get marijuana, and more will try it. In fact, national surveys are showing that fewer teens perceive marijuana as harmful.
Some examples of the science:
- A recent study of marijuana users showed that those who began using in their teens had substantially reduced connectivity among brain areas responsible for learning and memory.
- A large, long-term study in New Zealand showed that people who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teen years lost an average of 8 IQ points between ages 13 and 38, even when they stopped using as an adult. Those who started smoking marijuana in adulthood did not show significant IQ declines, which underscores the vulnerability of the teenage brain. With more than 6 percent of high school seniors smoking marijuana daily, they are putting their futures in jeopardy.”
It's not my aunt's pot, anymore. And since she's concerned about it, that has my attention and I've turned into a broken record when it comes to educating my teenager about marijuana's dangers. And even though my teen doesn't know what a record is, much less how a broken one sounds, I've at least taught him the potential consequences of engaging in an activity that most kids, and many adults, for that matter, still consider to be harmless.